The famous philosopher Socrates (pronounced saw-kruh-teez) lived in Greece from about 470-400 B.C. We actually have little to nothing written by him personally, but we have many stories about Socrates through four other philosophers, mainly Plato and Aristotle. Socrates is consistently portrayed in their stories as a particularly skillful teacher who took dialogue and questions to an all-new level of effectiveness.
If Socrates were alive today, dealing with current issues and events, he would assuredly use his teaching method to make people think more reasonably and logically about their beliefs. His dialogic questioning, salted with irony and sarcasm, would surely bring a smile to many a face, while making us think deeper and more profoundly about life and God and many other issues.
Since Socrates is not alive, and I don’t want to put words and beliefs into the ancient philosopher’s mouth, I am creating a modern day caricature to employ his same method of teaching to today’s world. Meet Socratease and get to know him in the following interview.
Bob (the Interviewer): Good afternoon, Socratease.
Socratease: Is it?
Bob: Well, yes I think it is a good afternoon. I was just trying to be friendly.
Socratease: So how do you determine if something, like this afternoon, is good or not?
Bob: Well, I’m not sure I’ve thought about that before exactly. I guess since nothing bad has happened today, it must be a good afternoon.
Socratease: So you’re saying good is the absence of bad?
Bob: Well, I guess so.
Socratease: And I suppose you would define bad as the absence or opposite of good?
Bob: Sounds like I really haven’t thought this through very well. How would you define good and bad?
Socratease: It seems they are relative ethical terms the way we use them today. But relative to what?
Bob: I’m not sure I understand your question.
Socratease: Good and bad, the way I hear people using those words today, speak to the ethical value of something or someone. But what if I think you are bad but you’re friends think you are good? What was the basis for me saying you are bad, and what was the basis of your friends saying you are good? What is the standard for saying anything is good or bad?
Bob: Isn’t that relative to the person and situation? Depending on how someone looks at something.
Socratease: So what you are saying is each individual person determines what is good or bad, based on their own, individual perspective.
Bob: Well, yes. I mean, that’s what everyone I know says today. Everything is relative.
Socratease: So let me make sure I understand you. If I as an individual think you are bad, and I think your badness is deserving of death, then it is good if I kill you?
Bob: That’s crazy. Of course not! You’ve got to take the whole of society into account as well.
Socratease: So it’s really not the individual that determines good and bad, but each individual society?
Bob: I guess that right.
Socratease: That’s interesting. That being the case, the German society of the 1940s, under the leadership of Adolph Hitler, would have been correct in killing over 6 million Jewish people from all over Europe, because they as a society determined Jewish people were bad. Is that right?
Bob: That’s crazy talk. No, that’s not right. It can’t just be individual societies that determine good and bad; it must be the human society as a whole.
Socratease: So the human society of the world determines good and bad?
Bob: Yes, that must be right.
Socratease: You have red hair, Bob. Are you saying that if the human community could somehow agree on something and decided red-haired people were bad, and needed to be eliminated, that it would be good for them to kill you?
Bob: OK Socratease, it’s obvious there has to be another way of determining what is good and bad besides individual people and societies, or even the whole human society of the world. So what else is left?
Socratease: If there is no reasonable and equitable way we can determine what is good and bad as humans or societies of this world, then could there be someone beyond this world, who might be responsible for this world, who could determine that?
Bob: I don’t know, Socratease. That’s a pretty antiquated belief, there being someone like a God, who created this world and sets the boundaries of good and bad.
Socratease: So you’re saying old ideas and things are bad?
Bob: Oh, I can’t keep going on like this. My brain is getting tired.
Socratease: Your brain? Or is it your logic and beliefs that are getting tired? Have a “good” afternoon, Bob.